Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr has suggested Paul Onuachu is a victim of his early success in the national team and that the striker’s failure to live up to his early promise has pushed him to the fringes of the national team.
Rohr, however, stressed that the Genk forward remains “a very important player” for the Eagles despite him being considered only good enough for the standby list for Nigeria’s 2021 AFCON qualifiers against Benin Republic and Lesotho.
Onuachu enjoyed a blistering start to his Super Eagles career, famously scoring just ten seconds into his first start, a friendly against Egypt ahead of the 2019 Nations Cup.
The goal, a rocket that flew past the keeper, proved to be the winner and earned Onuachu a place in the squad to Egypt where he generally underwhelmed in one start and two substitute appearances as Nigeria claimed bronze.
Two years on from that goal and eight Super Eagles appearances later including an anodyne 12-minute substitute appearance in the calamitous 4-4 draw with Sierra Leone and Nigerians are still waiting for the 26-year-old to add to his tally.
While he has routinely struggled in Nigeria’s green and white, the striker has been in exceptional form for his Belgian side this season and has 27 goals in all competitions including a league leading 25 goals in 30 games.
Such numbers meant the former FC Midtjylland hitman couldn’t be overlooked for the upcoming qualifiers but Rohr, who had issued a public warning to the player last year to adjust his style or lose his place, confounded fans and critics alike when he put Onuachu on a reserve list – a decision the beanpole forward reportedly didn’t take kindly to.
But with Almeria not granting Sadiq Umar leave to make travel to Nigeria, Onuachu was drafted in and Rohr explained his decision to leave the striker out of his initial 24-man squad was to afford other players a chance to prove their worth in the national team.
The former Gabon boss recalled he handed Onuachu a chance in the team before appearing to suggest he’d grown tired of waiting for the striker to replicate his early promise.
“As you know, Onuachu is a part of the team, I invited him already when he played his first match and he scored the goal after seven seconds and then the people are waiting all the time that he is doing the same but he could not,” Rohr said.
“But he is a part of our team, a very important player and sometimes we also have to look for other players who deserve also to have a chance,” he added.
Rohr pointed out that Nigeria has an abundance of talent in the forward department all of whom also deserve a chance in the national team.
“We know Paul already now since more than two years and we want also to see Sadiq Umar unfortunately the club did not release him so he is coming back Onuachu,” Rohr said.
“We have also other centre forwards like Moffi, we have so many strikers and sometimes we have to give them the chance to show something bit we cannot invite four centre forwards.
“Normally you can have only two, that’s why Paul was in the pre-selection in the standby list and he’s here and that’s the most important.
The same people asking why you play Onuachu they are asking now why you don’t put him in the list of 23,” he complained.